(CN) – The European human rights court struck down a Portuguese law that automatically convicts those who publish court documents.
In a 1999 television news report for the Portuguese media company Sociedade Independente de Comunicação, a legal correspondent showed a faxed copy of an indictment charging a police director with leaking information on an accounting case.
In 2006, the Portuguese court convicted Lisbon television journalist Sofia Pinto Coelho of breaking the law by publicizing legal documents before a judgment had been passed.
Coelho was fined 400 euros (about $580), and Portuguese courts denied her appeals.
She brought a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France, in 2008.
The human rights court said Portugal had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom of expression.
The court pointed out that the press serves a public interest function, although it may not overstep certain bounds, including the right to a fair trial.
But the eight-judge chamber also noted that there was a clear public interest here, the “right of scrutiny,” and that domestic courts had not balanced Coelho’s conviction with this right.
The authorities had failed to make their case, the court said, adding that any law involving such an automatic conviction was likely to be considered incompatible with the freedom of expression that democratic society needs.
The court ordered Portugal to pay Coelho 10 times the amount of her fine, or around 4,000 euros ($5,860).